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07.01.2019  Author: C.NAMASIVAYAM

The Year 2018  has been a busy year for all International cricket teams. As we close on to the end of 2018, a total of 45 Test matches have been played so far in the year. With the 3  ongoing Boxing Day Test matches, we would have come across a total of 48 Test matches by the end of 2018.

In 2018, India have played 13 Test matches, won  6 and lost 7. However, India managed to hold on to their No 1 ICC rankings in Test matches.

As we bid adieu to 2018, let us select the combined best Test XI for 2018 based on the performances of the players in this year.

Suppositions in selecting the players

1. The performance of the players in 2018 is the main criteria for selection.

2. The past records and the reputation of the players have not been taken into account.

3. The strength of the opposition and the nature of wickets, being qualitative factors,   have not been considered in assessing the performance of a particular player.

4. As far as possible, an attempt is made to give equal representation from all  Test playing nations.

5. The performances of the players before the Boxing Day Test matches have been taken into consideration.

The Openers

1.Dimuth Karunaratne ( Sri Lanka)

Matches – 8 , Innings – 15 , Runs scored – 736 , Avg – 52  - Hundreds – 1 , Fifties – 7

The Sri Lankan opening batsman Dimuth Karunaratne has been in fine form in 2018. He is the fifth highest scorer in Test matches in 2018. He has achieved this distinction by playing in a mere 8 Test matches in the year. Add to the fact that he is a left-hander at the top of the order who is adept at facing both the fast bowlers and the spinners.

Karunaratne had a slow start to the year when he scored just 35runs in the series against Bangladesh in Bangladesh. However, in the home series against South Africa Karunaratne came into his own with scores of 158 not out, 60, 53 and 85. In the first innings of the first Test at Galle, Dimuth carried his bat through. In that match, Karunaratne accounted for 45% of the runs scored by Sri Lanka in the entire match.  He was the Player of the series.

Even in the three- series against England which Sri Lanka lost badly, Karunaratne made his presence felt with an aggregate of 256 runs.

The other contenders include Dean Elgar, Markram, and Tom Latham. But Karunaratne is the ideal choice as an opener in this combined XI.

2.Kusal Mendis( Sri Lanka)

Matches -  11, Innings – 21, Runs scored – 941, Avg – 47, Hundreds – 3, Fifties – 3

Kusal Mendis is the make-shift opener in the team. This arrangement is made to accommodate the other in-form batsmen in the middle order. Moreover, during the year, 377 of his 941 runs came as an opener.

In the recently concluded first Test at Wellington against New Zealand, Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews batted through the entire fourth day’s play to earn their team an honorable draw. Sri Lanka were staring at defeat when they were reduced to 13 for 3 in the second innings.  Kusal Mendis and Angelo Mathews added 274 runs for the fourth wicket without being separated. In the process, they consumed 109 overs and helped by the weather on the final day, Sri Lanka managed to salvage a draw.  Kusal Mendis remained not out on 141.

Mendis started the year with a bang smashing  196 opening the innings against Bangladesh. He later scored another century as an opener against the West Indies at Port of Spain. But his best innings came against England in the third Test at Colombo when he scored a brilliant 86 in the fourth innings on a deteriorating wicket.

Kusal Mendis is the second opener in this team.


3.Joe Root ( England)

Matches – 13, Innings – 24, Runs scored – 948,  Avg – 41, Hundreds – 2 ,Fifties – 6

Like Kusal Mendis, Joe Root too started off the year in a good note with scores of 83 and 58 not out against Australia at Sydney. But his best performance came in the first innings of the first Test at Birmingham against India when he scored 80. His innings enabled his team to win that Test match by a narrow margin of 31 runs. Joe Root finished off the India series with a century at the Oval.

Joe Root’s crucial innings for England came in the second innings of the Kandy Test against Sri Lanka. After trailing 0-1 in the three-Test series, Sri Lanka took a 46 run first innings lead. In the second innings, England were 109 for 4 with an overall lead of just 63 runs. When the match and the series were in balance, Joe Root scored a brilliant 124 to set Sri Lanka a target of 300 runs in the fourth innings. Due to Joe Root’s fabulous efforts, England won that Test by 57 runs and with that the series.

Joe Root is the no 3 batsman in this line-up.

4. Virat Kohli (India) – Captain of this team

Matches -12, Innings – 22 , Runs scored – 1240, Avg – 56,  Hundreds – 5, Fifties – 4

Virat Kohli has been in the form of his life in 2018 as he completed 1000 runs in both Test matches and ODIs in this year. In the second Test match for India in the year at Centurion Kohli scored 153 against South Africa for a losing cause. In the next Test at Johannesburg which India won,  Kohli’s contribution was 55 and 41.

After skipping the Afghanistan Test, Kohli  reached the British shore with a lot of question mark against his ability to come good on English conditions. Kohli proved his detractors wrong by scoring 149 and 51 in the first test at Birmingham which India lost narrowly by 31 runs. In the third Test of the series which India won convincingly, Kohli contributed with scores of 97 and 103 thereby becoming the only Indian player to aggregate 200 runs in a Test match in two matches in England. Kohli finished the England series with 593 runs.

Kohli scored his fourth and fifth century of the year against the West Indies and Australia respectively. Kohli is the leading run scorer this year and beyond any other batsman’s reach.

With his out-of-the-world performance this year, Kohli has proved beyond doubt that he is at present the best batsman in the World across all formats. Kohli is the No 4 batsman in the team as well as the Captain.

5. Kane Williamson ( New Zealand) - Vice-Captain of this team

Matches -  6, Innings – 10, Runs scored – 601, Avg – 67, Hundreds – 2, Fifties – 3

Williamson has played in only 6 Test matches this year. He scored a hundred in the first Test match at Auckland. But his major contribution came in U.A.E  against Pakistan. In the 3 Test matches in U.A.E Williamson had scores of 63,37, 28 not out, 30, 89 and 139. Apart from scoring all those runs, Williamson was spot on with his captaincy more so in the First Test at Abu Dhabi which New Zealand won by the narrowest of the margin of 4 runs.

Pakistan came back in the series by winning the second Test in Dubai. In the series-decider at Abu Dhabi, Williamson scored 89 in the first innings. Because of his efforts, New Zealand recovered from 72 for 4 to 274 all out. New Zealand conceded a crucial 74 run lead to Pakistan in the first innings.

In the second innings, New Zealand lost 4 wickets before wiping off the first innings lead. Pakistan were well and truly in command. But they had Williamson to reckon with, He along with Nicholls took the game and the series away from Pakistan with a partnership of 212 runs for the fifth wicket.  When Williamson finally got out for 139, New Zealand was comfortably placed with an overall lead of 200.

The New Zealand bowlers completed the efforts of their skipper by skitting out Pakistan in 56 overs to earn an away series win against Pakistan after 49 years.

Williamson is the No 5 batsman in this team and also the Vice-captain.

The other contenders for the middle-order spot include Chateshwar Pujara ( India), Usman Khawaja ( Aus), Henry Nicholls( NZ) and Babar Azam(Pak).

Wicket –Keeper

Jos Buttler (England)

Matches – 10, Innings – 18, Runs scored – 760, Avg – 44, Hundreds – 1, Fifties – 6

Though Jose Buttler hasn’t kept wickets a lot in the year, he is a regular wicket-keeper who makes into this team on the basis of his batting performance. Since this team has only 5 specialist batsmen, the team needs more of a batsman wicket-keeper like Jose Buttler to strengthen the middle-order. Jose Buttler is not at all a part-time wicket-keeper by any stretch of the imagination.

As a batsman, Jose Buttler had a wonderful time in 2018. Buttler first scored 2 fifties against Pakistan.  That was followed by 5 low scores against India. When a question mark was raised against Buttler’s ability as a Test batsman, Buttler scored a brilliant hundred against India at Nottingham when England had nothing to lose. He followed that up with a 69 in the second innings of the fourth Test which sealed the series in favor of England. Buttler finished off the series with a score of 89 at the Oval.

In the low-scoring Test series against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka, Buttler had decent figures of 38,35,63,34,16 & 64 which enabled England to make a clean sweep of the three-Test series for the first time in the sub-continent.

Jose Buttler would be the wicket-keeper for this team to lend the much-required balance.

The other contenders are Jonny Bairstow (Eng), BJ Watling(NZ) and Rishabh Pant(Ind).

The All-rounder

Jason Holder ( West Indies)

Matches – 6,  Innings – 11, Runs scored – 336, Avg – 37, Wickets taken – 33

The West Indies captain Jason Holder has been a silent performer in 2018. He played his role as an all-rounder to perfection though his team was always at the receiving end. In batting, Jason Holder had decent scores of 40,39,15,15 not out,74,15,33, 33 not out ,1, 52 and 19.  But it was his bowling which stood out. In the Bridgetown Test against Sri Lanka, Jason Holder finished with figures of 4 for 19 from 16 overs and 5 for 41.

Holder followed that up with bowling figures of 5 for 44 and 6 for 59 against Bangladesh to lead West Indies to a 2-0 series win. Holder took his third consecutive 5 wicket haul against India with figures of 5 for 56.  His wickets included the wickets of K.L. Rahul, Virat Kohli, and Ajinkya Rahane. Whenever the West Indies were fighting against the wall, It was Jason Holder who with his spirited performance has delayed the inevitable. His absence was felt in the series against Bangladesh when West Indies were swept over by Bangladesh.

For his lion-hearted performance in 2018, Jason Holder deserves a place in the team as the all-rounder. The other challengers are Sam Curran (Eng), Shakin Al Hasan(Bang) and Ben Stokes ( Eng).

Spin Bowlers

Nathan Lyon ( Australia)

Matches – 9, Innings – 18, Wickets – 48,  Avg – 21,  5 wickets haul – 2

Out of the 9 matches that Nathan Lyon has played in the year, he has taken a total of 5 or more wickets in 4 Test matches and 4 wickets in 2 matches. In his last 3 Test matches, he has taken 8 wickets each. In the second Test against India at Perth, Lyon was the difference between the two teams as he managed to take 8 wickets on a wicket aiding the fast bowlers. That too against the Indian batsmen who were supposed to be proficient at playing spinners.

Nathan Lyon is the off-spinner in this team.

Taijul Islam ( Bangladesh)

Matches – 7, Innings – 13, wickets – 43,  Avg – 23,  5 wkt haul – 4, 10 wkts for the match - 1

Taijul Islam, the slow left-arm orthodox spinner from Bangladesh has been the star performer for his team in 2018. Though his performances came against bottom-ranked teams like Sri Lanka, Zimbabwe and the West Indies, it was still a performance worth mentioning from a team like Bangladesh. 

Bangladesh managed to win their last 3 Test matches in the year. Islam’s contribution in those victories was a total haul of 17 wickets. Bangladesh had their first innings victory against the hapless West Indies at Dhaka. Bangladesh won that two-Test series by a margin of 2-0.  Interestingly, the Bangladesh spinners shared all the 40 Windies wickets that fell in the series. Islam’s share was 10. Islam is also a handy lower-order batsman.

Taiju Islam is the second spinner in this team. The other players for the spinner’s spots are   R.Ashwin (Ind), Mehidy Hasan Miraz ( Ban), Mooen Ali(Eng)  and Dilruwan  Perera(SL).

Fast Bowlers

Kagiso Rabada( South Africa)

Matches – 9, Innings – 18, Wickets – 46, Avg – 20, 5 wicket haul – 2, 10 wkts  for the match - 1

In the first Test series of the year against India, Rabada took 15 wickets in 3 matches. With his express pace, he was successful in knocking off Virat Kohli’s stumps twice in the series. In the following series against Australia at home, Rabada took 11 wickets in the second Test match at Port Elizabeth and South Africa won that match by 6 wickets

In the next match too Rabada took 5 wickets and South Africa won that match by a big margin. Rabada was instrumental in South Africa winning that four-match series by a margin of 3-1.  Rabada has rightly adjudged the  Player of the series.

Even in South Africa’s disastrous tour of Sri Lanka, Rabada took 8 wickets in 2 matches. Rabada is the fast bowler in form and deserves a place in this team.

Mohammad Abbas (Pakistan)

Matches – 7, Innings – 13,  Wickets – 38,  Avg – 23, 5 wkt haul – 3, 10 wkts for the match – 1

Mohammad Abbas started the year with a 9 wicket haul against Ireland. In the next match against England at Lord’s Abbas took 8 wickets in Pakistan’s comfortable win by 9 wickets. His best performance in the year came against Australia when he took 17 wickets in just 2 Test matches. After the first Test match was drawn, Abbas took 10 wickets in the second Test at Abu Dhabi. Pakistan won that Test by 373 runs.

Though Abbas couldn’t repeat that performance against New Zealand, Pakistan very much missed him in the decider at Abu Dhabi due to injury.

Mohammad Abbas would be the ideal opening bowler in this team to share the new ball with Rabada.

The other contenders for the fast bowler's spot are James Anderson, Mohammad Shami, Jasprit Bumrah and Ishant Sharma.

To sum up, this team has 5 specialist batsmen, one batsman-cum- wicket-keeper, one fast bowling all-rounder, one off-spinner, one left-arm slow bowler and two fast bowlers.